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Contractors working to clean up old Pittsburgh Cut Flower site in Richland

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Contractors, from left, are Joe Pillart, 49, Shawn Speedwell, 50, and Walt Adams, 59.
Deborah Deasy | Pine Creek Journal
Contractors, from left, are Joe Pillart, 49, Shawn Speedwell, 50, and Walt Adams, 59.
Contractor Joe Pillart oversaw the cleanup, decontamination and demolition of greenhouses and other structures at the former site of Pittsburgh Cut Flowers.
Contractor Joe Pillart oversaw the cleanup, decontamination and demolition of greenhouses and other structures at the former site of Pittsburgh Cut Flowers.

What smacks of a war zone now stretches beyond the chain link fence where crumbling greenhouses once lined Bakerstown Road in Richland.

It has been 10 months since Joe Pillart, 49, of Richland — co-owner of Mid-Atlantic Environmental Consultants — arrived to coordinate ongoing efforts by multiple contractors to clean up the asbestos-contaminated former site of Pittsburgh Cut Flower Co.

“Now that the greenhouses are down at the road, it's a beautiful sight — not having those 20 years of blight there,” said Chris Beichner, executive director of the nonprofit Allegheny Land Trust.

“It just opens up that view of the valley and the natural green space that exists down at the pond and below,” Beichner said.

After the cleanup is complete, Allegheny Land Trust, a nonprofit group, hopes to buy the property for $1.4 in grants and donations from Legacy Landings LLC, the land's current owners.

Beyond the view of passing motorists, more than a mile of bumpy dirt roads snake past the remnants of demolished and remaining structures in a jungle-like valley.

“There are a lot of flat tires on this job,” Pillart said, leading a tour of the valley from the driver's seat of his 5.7-liter Dodge Hemi pickup.

Pillart got into the environmental cleanup business after working on airplane fuel tanks as a tech sergeant in the 911th Aircraft Wing unit of the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command at Pittsburgh International Airport. Pillart also is a 1983 graduate of Deer Lakes High School with an associate degree in environmental science from the Community College of Allegheny County.

At the former home of Pittsburgh Cut Flower Co., only three of 12 original greenhouses still stand on the 180 acres that once yielded untold roses and other blooms.

“There were 10 acres of greenhouses,” said Beichner of the Allegheny Land Trust.

Allegheny Land Trust plans to eventually designate 150 acres of the property for passive recreation, and 30 acres for limited economic development.

Cleanup of the land might be done by December, according to Pillart.

“Just because the cleanup is complete does not mean that Allegheny Land Trust will go ahead and purchase it,” Beichner said. “We want to make sure the property is safe for the public to use in the future.”

Two Philadelphia-area firms — Agresta Construction of Cherry Hill, N.J., and Controlled Environmental Systems of Horsham Township, Montgomery County — are tearing down the site's crumbing structures.

The debris is going to a secure Waste Management landfill in West Sunbury, Butler County, that accepts hazardous waste.

“The steel is getting recycled and everything else is going out as hazardous waste,” Pillart said. “Castriota Metals is getting all the steel.”

Supervising all the heavy lifting are Walt Adams, 59, of South Philadelphia and Controlled Environmental Systems; and Shawn Speedwell, 50, of North Philadelphia and Agresta Construction.

After trucks carry away all the rubble, two to four inches of soil will be scraped off the surface of the demolition site, and also hauled away as hazardous waste.

When vandals broke into the site's greenhouses in March 2012 to steal copper and other metal for scrap, the intruders disturbed a lot of asbestos insulation around pipes in the site's greenhouses. “The asbestos was all over the pipes, and they were cutting up the pipes,” Pillart said.

Government official then designated the property as a contaminated site.

Before the vandalism occurred, the Pittsburgh Cut Flower Co. property was “just blighted and didn't look good,” Pillart said. “Everybody knew what was in there, but nobody wanted to buy it, because it needed cleaned up.

“Once the vandals went in there, and put asbestos all over the ground, government agencies had to take action,” Pillart said.

Overseeing the demolition and cleanup for the federal Environmental Protection Agency is Jocelyn Welshhans of TechLaw in Wheeling, W.Va.

“It's going pretty good,” she said about the cleanup.

Among her duties, Welshhans photographs the cleanup and watches to make sure that all workers wear hard hats, respirators and other protective clothing as they continue to demolish buildings and de-contaminate the property.

During the ongoing cleanup, Pillart continuously tests the site's air for traces of asbestos fibers.

Pillart monitors the air's asbestos level by microscopically viewing snipped pieces of air filters housed in containers attached to the chain link fence along the Bakerstown Road perimeter of the site.

“It's been very low,” Welshhans said about the airborne asbestos.

“Well below reportable quantities.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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